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Un-review - Jamie Oliver

Sorry, mate, the food's rubbish. The showbusiness does not fool Drew Smith

Published on February 28th 2012.

Un-review - Jamie Oliver

This is not a review of Jamie Oliver. It is an un-review. Mark it under things you need to know.

The Revolution burger is a skyscraper of burger. Being more than a foot tall it gets you in the eye and the chin. You get mayo in your hair. 

The blackboard outside the new Islington branch of Jamie's Italian proclaims that 'This girl makes fresh pasta everyday'. And sure enough in the window is an olive skinned girl with her hair tied back working trays of coloured pasta.

It is show business. The messaging is fast and furious so they don’t really have time to even spell properly. 

JamietrafficEnjoy the traffic jamsBut this is Pentonville Road too, of prison fame, the wrong side of the junction with Angel that many people who live nearby never dared to cross, and to make matters worse at the moment there are the ubiquitous road works outside.

Nevertheless Jamie’s is pretty much full and it is not a small place. It is a very BIG place filled with a designer’s brio for urban factory reconstruction, with immodest numbers of ham legs hanging from the bar, with a whole new generation of nice young boys in grey ties enthusing about the food. We are here to enthuse. If Jamie says so, it must be ok. This is place number 26 – probably 27 by now, you can see them all here.

But the point is this a BIG number. A BIG rapacious number too where you could move a lot of money without blinking.

JamieantipastoAnti pasto looks better than it tastesTot this lot up – bread £3.75, olives £3.75, vegetarian antipasto £6.75 (each – and it is pretty vile), pastas (undercooked) from £6.65 to £15 plus, main dishes £13 to £17, plus sides of chips at £3.25, salads another £3.25, desserts at £4.95 – that is the best part of £50 each. Easy peasy, Jamie, off the bottom end of the menu, PLUS wine (not very nice house wines either), PLUS service for the nice boys and girls. That is pretty much first division pricing even by London standards.

JamiecounterThe old hamsThis décor does not come cheap.

Down the road at Tottenham Court Road the parallel UK version Union Jacks is not so large but nevertheless an architectural statement of glass – not smoked here, but clean.

In Manchester it is a former bank that has got the ham leg treatments – private dining in the old vault, cashier’s desks hung with sausages. Jamie has got himself some serious money together for these places, and probably no surprise that traditional hospitality of Italian cooking is in shorter supply than the hot air.

I admire Jamie for what he is doing – whatever that is – or at least for sticking to his guns. These new places are a step on from the training outlet that was 15, from the Ministry of Food, from Sainsbury's and they would appear to be drawing in the crowds who might otherwise eat at Pizza Hut/Express/Porchetta or re-engaging people who have perhaps never managed to get off the sofa as far as the kitchen and who think they are getting a gastro wet dream, which they are. It is TV food come to life. Eeek – a horror movie.

I was not going to write about the food because I had presumed that it would not even figure on our rating scale out of 20 even if I gave the decor the whole five marks, but I was told by a pal that he had eaten a very good whole brill, simply cooked. So I double checked myself and can report the food was unilaterally appalling.

JamievongoleWhoops, forgot to cook thatIt was pretend food.  It looks great, costs a lot of money and is produced by people Jamie has not got around to teaching about kitchens and served by waiters and waitresses like it is some restaurant comprehensive school.

It will do them good, better than anyone else. In fact the best thing about these places is they are perhaps teaching a new generation how to cope with working in a restaurant. You are the guinea pig.

One example – the Revolution burger at £11.25 looks impressive but it is a vertical burger, a skyscraper of burger. You cannot, Jamie, get a vertical burger in a human mouth. Being more than a foot tall it gets you in the eye and the chin. You get mayo in your hair. You have to think, like McDonalds do, son, horizontal. Get it?

I am not being snotty about this – I could give a Carluccio a mark of 12 or 13/20 but that is because Antonio has overseen the details with vision and aplomb. And you can eat with a glass of wine there for £20 or so.

Jamie is just chasing a design vision to have the biggest restaurant in the world. He has become a megalith. The fans are following. So maybe there is a revolution of sorts afoot, maybe Jamie is doing what Paul Bocuse did in France in a different, more populist way to aggrandize his downtrodden profession, and Sir Terence Conran once explained as: how do you expect people to know what they want if you don’t show them? The only problem is, this ain’t it.

Sorry, son. I just do not want anyone to get the wrong idea, especially when there are so many other people in town who are getting it right these days without doing it for the cameras. Looks good though, Jamie.

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Helen Ramsbottom shared this on Facebook on March 8th 2012.
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